Chapter XXXIII – And Quiet Flows the Rhine
Our Lord, Austria Arise!
Throughout the most Holy Roman Empire, one thing echoed through the minds of princes of all the Christian confessions; Spain’s Habsburgs had proven to be a rather incompetent and inbred bunch not capable of reigning the Empire, let alone style themselves as “for ever Augustus.” Disillusioned, the electors began to wonder who to elect. The incumbent emperor in the year of our lord 1629 was Philip of Spain and he had been more than a broken man after the peace of Madrid with France. As such it was believed that he would not last long on the Roman throne. But who would then rule after Philip? The old emperor had no heirs of useful character (and even if he had had one, it would have been hard for him to get his candidate elected) and as such it seemed that Imperial rule from Madrid would come to a close with the death of Philip. The Protestants might have wished for Nicolas to take over the mantle and defend them from the Habsburg Catholics, but on the other hand they feared the power a French emperor would be able to wield by uniting the most populous country in Europe with the fealty of the hundred nations of the Empire. No, it wouldn’t be France’s time to rule the Empire of the German Nation; rather the electors looked to Austria in order to keep the status quo of Europe. The Austrian archdukes had fought wars against the Turks and retaken much of Hungary while rooting out the Protestant faiths in Bohemia and Württemberg, and even though they had suffered defeats at the hands of the Bourbons they had always held the upper hand at the negotiations, despite the well known French ambition across the Rhine. In 1630, Philip died and the electors chose Albrecht IV of Austria as their new sovereign at an Imperial diet in Munich. The French delegation left the council in anger and threatened to pull back their support of the most vocal Protestant electors.
The electors speak.
This proved to be a serious mistake. Albrecht was no fool and immediately saw the tiny crack in the Protestant armour. Soon his own diplomats carried Austrian guarantees and letters of Friendship to the German princes, Protestant and Catholic alike. Nicolas didn’t care much as according to the Charlemagne Plan, the French armies would soon cross the border into Austria anyways as a response to the Habsburg scheming and expulsion of French merchants. Yet once again, Albrecht proved a cunning adversary and revoked the ban in the Austrian lands while convincing the regency in Madrid to expulse French merchants there. Without a valid reason for war Nicolas backed down grumbling. He wouldn’t risk his attempts at winning Germany because of one incident with the newly elected emperor, but to Albrecht it was an important victory as the French diplomatic offensive had been seemingly stopped.
Albrecht IV of the Holy Roman Empire
In some ways the Austrian inheritance came as a blessing to France, in others it was a curse. Nicolas was getting distracted by the power games within the Empire to such a degree that he failed to see the troubles and tribulations the wars had caused within the French society. He was almost absent when the first Fronde had erupted in Guyenne, Poitou and Picardy and when the nobles within the first estate began to plot and bicker as they always did, the young king was more concerned about the progress of negotiations with some obscure and obstinate Protestant Prince on the Rhine. The estates were demanding a sovereign that would take care of them and engage himself in the internal situation before looking outwards. Sully tried to stress this to Nicolas, but was brushed aside by Rohan who loved the king’s interest in the fields of foreign policy (which is somewhat logical as Rohan had originally been made part of the Triumvirate because of his expertise on matters abroad). As the years passed Sully and Rohan continued to compete with each other over the favour of the king, for with the king’s favour was the policy of France. The young monarch had a hard time at first getting to know the two old men and their schemes and games, but in the end his talents began to serve him well. By 1632 he had completed the conversion work in the March of the Ebro and in the former Spanish Navarre. This won Nicolas some much needed prestige on the home front and strengthened him in the German Empire where Albrecht had more or less taken over.
Conversions in the South
But although the Austrian influence continued to rise Nicolas couldn’t let the matters of the Empire be. He firmly believed that the Protestant princes needed and wanted him as their liege although it was clear to most that they really did not - at least not at that moment. Yet even as the nobility and peasantry were trying to find each other in order to combat absolutism events changed drastically in Germany. The Prince of the small protestant country of Ansbach died without any successor and left his throne in the hands of Nicolas. This was immediately disputed by emperor Albrecht who saw any further French gains within the Empire as anathema to the Catholic cause. Sensing the danger, Nicolas immediately demanded the annexation of what remained of the principality of Alsace such that his new duchy in Germany could be accessed easily (but also in order to send a message of resolution to Albrecht). The Prince gave in and as such Nicolas Henri’s plan regarding the Rhine had succeeded, both banks were now either in French hands or occupied by allied powers. The alarms immediately sounded in the Austrian palaces. The French offensive had been resumed and Albrecht was certain what to do…
Across the Rhine!
Austria revokes embargo, Spain issues one.
Several electors change allegiance to Austria